September 21st, 2017

Finding a way out of the woods…0

For many days now, I have wondered what has gone missing. It was not very long ago when I had so much to say, to so many people. There were words galore, and some of them carried some meaning too – or so at least  I used to think.  Someone wise had once told me that it is best not to go back and read the mind rot we churn out, and it was perhaps some of the best advice given to me by wise people, which is also to say that I went back and read some of the old stuff. Not that it changed anything except help put things in perspective.

More than words, however, I used to think I had ideas – ideas which the world needed so that it could save itself from all kinds of bad things ranging from mere stagnation to total annihilation. It takes something away from your motivation when you figure out that most of your bright ideas have already been around for a few centuries if not millenia. I really did think I was on to something big when I had thought up a scrabble board that would have nice little compartments for tiles to rest in, so that every little nudge, every little careless (and sometimes careful) movement of a hand did not reset the entire game. Turns out, someone has already beaten me to it. The ‘reset’ option was another one of the great ideas that would have been entirely mine if only I had had the foresight to arrive a couple of centuries earlier. As luck would have it, some company claiming to be soft at the minutest level has taken the ‘reset’ idea to ridiculous heights of application – only they call it ‘restart’.

I am not making sense. Again. This seems to be my default setting. Even though writing at this blog is being forced into restarting, it would appear that we continue to write in the same manner, and a hiatus of a couple of years has done nothing to help our style mature. We are feeling very regal in that way today, since it is a proven fact that royalty maintain some semblance of sanity through keeping up appearances – if only for the public eye, while the general populace, the commoners so to speak, simply let the standards slip. The tragedy, of course, is that even if we did not act so regal, and vehemently, even vociferously, encouraged the standards to slip, they might find very little slipping possible despite the best of their efforts.

Shorn of words, bereft of ideas, what does one write about? And how?

These are difficult questions to have to consider. If I had any political acumen, I would have devoted my energies to discussing the political scene back home.  More importantly, if I had any interest in the circus that is called politics in Pakistan, I probably would have overlooked my own shortcomings in the acumen department and gone ahead and written about the circus anyway. Fortunately, circus when it is reduced to freak shows holds very little interest for me.

I would write about my understanding of deen, and how I have arrived at that understanding. I tried doing it too, but I felt an absolute hypocrite pontificating (ironic use of word) when I have consistently failed to bring deen into my own life. There is also the fact that most discussions about deen tend to turn passionate, and need some level of passion and drive to keep going. I look inside me, and find no remnants of any passion I used to have. I am convinced that I have no inclination of getting into heated debates and arguments about anything. If people see the world differently than me, it is their choice, and hence their own misfortune. They are not my responsibility.

Besides, a few times already, I have alienated a few close friends simply because I could not resist the allure of winning an argument. What is an argument worth at the end of the day? I am sure it is worth something, since so many people, so many groups of people, so many nations seem to relish every opportunity to dive into one.  Is it worth a friend, worth losing a friend? Is anything ever worth losing a real friend? Once, I had come very close to losing a friend, a friend who has always been more than just a great friend, even more than a brother. We grew up together, learning from each other, relying on each other, and yet being different from each other. We learned to appreciate our differences, and value our common interests. It was not an argument that had threatened to cost me so dearly – he was wise enough to know that an argument when we both knew that I was the one who had been in the wrong, could only make matters worse, so he had walked away before an argument could even begin. And then, some years later, he could find it in his gracious heart to forgive the disappointment and the hurt I had caused him, and he just showed up one day at my door. We picked up right from where we had left, and have never had to look back. Alhamdulillah. Amongst the millions of things I have to thank Allah subhanahu for, this second chance certainly ranks very near to the top. Would I ever risk being in that spot again? I am inclined to think not.

What is an argument then? Except mere clash of egos disguised as opinions? When egos clash, egos bruise, because they are fragile, and inflated, and plain silly. And such are opinions. No opinion is worth risking a friendship, so when I see opinions rearing their heads, I walk away. Except, when it is a matter of faith. Faith is faith, and sometimes it is not possible to walk away from a discussion on faith, not when it is not something trivial, and is indeed something about the very fundamentals of faith. For this reason, I decided against updating on deen as well. I am not qualified enough to discuss faith, nor do I have the knowledge, yet in matters of faith little knowledge often masquerades as enough knowledge, and leads people to developing opinions. Opinions that may or may not have much to do with faith, but will be considered worth an argument – worth losing a friend. I am not prepared to lose friends over words, but what is stop some friends from being willing to lose me over a few words? And what if my own opinion dons the mask of knowledge and drives me away from friends I have cultivated over the years?

Leaves sport and work to write about then, and I am good enough at neither to be writing about it.

Gillette, Gitteltun, and the 727

There will come a day when the guys at Gillette will tell me that they had been fibbing all along and that actually the thing that they had really wanted to make all those years was the one fitted with nine and a half blades, because, let’s face it, the one with nine blades and a quarter of a blade came close, very close, but it missed out just where the real blade needed to, pun intended, cut it; i.e. the real stubble, for what’s a stubble that cannot survive nine blades and a quarter. They will have a fancy name for the real stubble, which I will come to in due time.

Beauty, they will tell me, is actually skin deep, in more ways than the popularly propagated and rarely countered belief along those lines, and the only thing that stands taut between a man’s ‘beauty’ and the world is the skin that covers the under-stubble, which, the under-stubble that is, is in fact the hitherto unknown layer of stubble which grows under the skin and in which is rooted the stubble. The under-stubble, they will tell me, is the discovery of the century made at the Gillette labs, and it will be years, if not decades, before the rest of the world catches up with the medical advancements being made in the field of facial hair removal at the Gillette labs strategically located away from prying eyes of the makers of Phillips shavers on a planet called Gitteltun far away in the galaxy commonly known as, ironically, that hairy galaxy. 

The quarter blade, I will come to know thanks to their ready willingness to share the inside story with me, did a splendid job of removing the camouflage skin, and camouflage skin will by then be very normal way of dismissing this redundant bit of epidermal nuisance, to uncover the under-stubble, which is invisible to the naked eye (but of course), but failed just where it mattered – in tackling the under-stubble. If not for that, the electronic microscopes would not reveal the dense rainforests on our chins. This, they will remark in a tone not entirely untainted by pride, is where the nine and a half blade comes in – it removes not only the skin, but also the under-stubble – a feat after which the outer layer of my face will feel soft as liquid to touch; which, I will privately wonder to myself, it might just be, since if the face does not start bleeding profusely after removal of skins and under-stubbles, it can hardly have been a face constituted of organic matter.

When they feel they have nearly come to the end of their sales pitch, they will cheerily tell me that I can be a proud owner of the halfer, which is probably what they will be calling their razor by then, and of skin so fluidly velvety that the best velvet will soon be called halfer-like, against the payment of a paltry sum of nine thousand five hundred and fifty five riyals, and a pound of flesh – my own flesh. 

Either that or they will do a Nike and introduce the all-new single-blade razor, which, they will tell me, is all that a man ever needs, and the best he can get. They will watch with amusement the sparkle in my eye, and before I have a chance of telling them just how pleased I am that they have come off of that silly business of exorbitantly expensive shaving razors with multiple blades, they will gently break the news to me that if I want they can book me a set of those cutting edge single-blade razors against the payment of – you guessed it – a paltry sum of nine thousand, five hundred, and fifty five riyals and a pound of flesh, my own flesh – preferably not removed from what they will derogatorily call the triple chin.

It will be somewhere at this point that I will draw their attention to the beard I have sported for some years now, and will explain in response to their puzzled look that the beard, that bit of facial hair sprouting all over my triple chin, is actually a direct consequence of not having been the most frequent user of their merchandise. They will draw themselves up haughtily and assert that they know, of course, what the growth on my triple chin is called, but they had assumed, they will disparagingly inform me, that the over-grown stubble was just a manifestation of my ignorance about all things best a man can get; either that, the smart Alec everyone will have been calling number 2 will quip, or a manifestation of my ignorance of or confusion about the exact geographical location of my chin in the general wilderness of my face; since, he will observe privately, with a head as oval as a triple chin, and a triple chin as oval as an oval head, especially an oval head almost naturally devoid of any follicle representation, people could be forgiven for getting their facts about where their head and chin were located.     

It will be my turn to draw myself up haughtily, and draw myself up haughtily I will, as if on cue; for what’s a man who cannot take his turn to draw himself up haughtily in a proper manner? There are few things which define and determine an average man’s standing in his own eyes as well as his ability to draw himself up haughtily when the time comes for him to draw himself up haughtily. Greater men take matters into their hands rather literally when they perceive some impropriety in their dialogue and take rightful umbrage – which is a precursor to the taking of matters in hands at a literal level. Greater men still take the matters and hand them over on a platter into the able hands of their Generals when such occasions arise; while weaker men quickly look around to see if eager hands are racing from any or all directions to grab matters of their own accord, when such matters present themselves. It is the weakest kind who register little by way of reaction when matters such as those which must be handled inflict themselves upon them, and the strongest kind who let matters rest with a smile when confronted by such matters directly. I have often wondered, in fact, how close the weakest are to the strongest when all kinds are measured in terms of how they respond to situations which lead to matters which have formed the crux of the discussion thus far in this paragraph.

The average kind, however, the kind which yours truly subscribes to, live in a world more perceived than real, and in doing so do the world a favor.  For we form the vast majority which constitutes the heaving mass of humanity toiling in the service of this world, and if we did not live in perceived worlds, our dissatisfaction with the status quo and our grievances with those who exploit us and induce and implore us to exploit each other would turn the world, as we know it, on its head leading to chaos and mayhem; and don’t we all know how very undesirable chaos and mayhem are? Especially in a world which we inhabit, which is why we sit back and count our blessings as chaos and mayhem are inflicted on other worlds in our name. Live in perceived worlds we must, and we do. We bask in perceived limelight, relish perceived luxuries, lament perceived short-comings and deprivations, draw ourselves up haughtily at perceived slights and live out the length of our not so great lives in perceived satisfaction.

Perceiving so many things at so many levels requires perfection in the art of perceiving, and as someone must have said somewhere in some language, perfection is not easily acquired. It requires singular focus, dogged resolve, and the kind of perseverance that can only lead to, well, perfection. We, the average kind, are sadly completely devoid of any of the afore-mentioned attributes, because such attributes would automatically elevate us from amongst the masses into the ranks of stronger and stronger still men. How then we do manage to acquire the perfection we do in the art of perceiving is a mystery unto itself, and one of the greatest anomalies of the world. I, an average man of the most average kind, can hardly lay claim to resolving, explaining or decoding one of the greatest anomalies of our world, and will therefore refrain from trying to venture an explanation. 

The importance of drawing myself up haughtily thus explained, I feel I can proceed with the story of the day when Gillette will tell me that they had been fibbing all along. Having defined and determined my standing in my own eyes through that timely act of drawing myself up haughtily, I will proceed to admonish the guys from Gillette, and reserve special scorn for the Smart Alec. I will tell them in no uncertain terms that I know my head from my chin, thank you, however oval in shape and devoid of follicle representation the head might be, and however heady the chin might be in its general demeanor; and that the beard is no consequence of any ignorance on my part of what the best is a man can get, and on the contrary in fact, it is a direct result of a deep understanding of the very best a man can get – and 72 of those he can. Thank you.

At this they will leave my presence shaking their hairy heads and scratching their velvety chins, and I will be none the worse for their departure.  I will turn on my heel then and stomp off in a gait only marginally tainted by a degree of pride.  

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